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FROM how it looks, President Rodrigo Duterte is living on the wrong impression that he has fired 43 immigration officials who were dragged into a P40-billion extortion through human-trafficking scheme that saw thousands of Chinese immigrants sneak into the country months before the onset of the pandemic and even during at the peak of the COVID-19 havoc.

To be perfectly frank about this one, the President was made to look stupid when he claimed during his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) that he fired all the 43 immigration officers allegedly involved in the so-called “pastillas” scheme.

No less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that those whom the President referred to have in fact been back at the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

Why? Because they were never fired in the first place. Those whom Duterte categorically labeled as corrupt were just meted a six-month suspension even after finding sufficient evidence that these crooks have been pocketing an estimated P40 billion in grease money to facilitate the entry of thousands of Chinese nationals, many of them intending to work illegally in online gaming outfits in the country, since 2017.

The pastillas scheme is actually not as simple as it sounds. It is an understatement to say that these BI crooks received bribes. From my standpoint, it’s a glaring extortion for which they should not just be fired but sent behind bars.

There were 43 personnel involved. I fired them all. I really dismissed them from the government,” was how Duterte exactly bragged in his SONA.

The President even recalled ordering that the money be wrapped up like pastillas because “that is what I will make them eat.”

It was a good thing that Justice Secretary Guevarra was there, so that prevented me from doing it because if he did not come — and I never expected him to be there — I would have given each of them that paper and I would have really made them eat it.”

In November, Malacañang released pictures of rolled-up bills placed on the chairs where the erring immigration officers were to sit during a meeting with the president.

Aside from the 43 vultures in the guise of immigration officers, 40 others who have been accused of graft had already returned to work after a six-month suspension without pay.

What’s worse, they were made to report to their respective agencies where all that they have been doing is just to sit – and receive fat paychecks coming from our taxes.

Digging deeper into this, criminal charges against them are “sleeping” in the Office of the Ombudsman and separate administrative cases are under snail-paced review by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

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